Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders gave the rest of the NFL a clear lesson in how to save a timeout by employing poor sportsmanship on Sunday night, faking an injury to give his team time to get the right personnel on the field.
With the Steelers facing third-and-11 with six minutes left in the game, Pittsburgh wanted to substitute but didn’t have time to do it without picking up a delay of game penalty. So Sanders — one of the players who was supposed to come off — simply fell to the ground pretending to be hurt, which caused a clock stoppage that allowed the Steelers to get the correct personnel on the field.
It was incredibly obvious that Sanders was faking, but it became ridiculously obvious when Sanders went right back on the field just one play later. NBC’s Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels both noticed that Sanders was faking immediately, and Michaels noted that the league office might have something to say about it.
Based on what the league office has said in the past, Sanders should have to explain himself. Last season, when two Giants players obviously faked an injury in a game against the Rams, the NFL distributed a memo saying, in part, “all those suspected of being involved in faking injuries will be summoned promptly to this office.”
Well, now Sanders is suspected of being involved in faking injuries. But NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFT that Sanders wasn’t summoned to the league office, or disciplined in any other way. However, the situation is still being reviewed by the league office.
As I wrote at the time of the Giants’ fake injury controversy, faking injuries is a time-honored practice in football. It dates at least to 1953, when a Notre Dame team was dubbed the “Fainting Irish” after faking an injury to get a free timeout that set up a tying touchdown on the last play of a game against Iowa. But the fact that fake injuries have been around for more than half a century doesn’t make them acceptable. And since the NFL has warned teams not to do it, there’s no reason for the NFL not to act now that Sanders has obviously done it.
It would stink to see the NFL become like soccer, where players are constantly flopping to the turf with phony injuries. But if the NFL doesn’t crack down, things could head in that direction. The example that Sanders set on Sunday night is clear: If you want a free timeout, just fake an injury. The referee and the league office won’t do anything about it.